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35 Iraq Officials Held in Raids on Key Ministry

 
 
Reply Thu 18 Dec, 2008 04:12 am
35 Iraq Officials Held in Raids on Key Ministry
by Johan Spanner for The New York Times
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and TARIQ MAHER
Published: December 17, 2008

BAGHDAD " Up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ranking as high as general have been arrested over the past three days with some of them accused of quietly working to reconstitute Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, according to senior security officials in Baghdad.

The arrests, confirmed by officials from the Ministries of the Interior and National Security as well as the prime minister’s office, included four generals, one of whom, Gen. Ahmed Abu Raqeef, is the ministry’s director of internal affairs. The officials also said that the arrests had come at the hand of an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

The involvement of the counterterrorism unit speaks to the seriousness of the accusations, and several officials from the Ministries of the Interior and National Security said that some of those arrested were in the early stages of planning a coup.

None of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the subject, provided details about that allegation.

But the arrests reflect a new set of political challenges for Iraq. Mr. Maliki, who has gained popularity as a strong leader but has few reliable political allies, has scrambled to protect himself from domestic rivals as the domineering influence of the United States, his leading backer, begins to fade.

Rumors of coups, conspiracies and new alliances abound in the Iraqi capital a month before provincial elections. Critics of Mr. Maliki say he has been using arrests to consolidate power.

But senior security officials said there was significant evidence tying those arrested to a wide array of political corruption charges, including affiliation with Al Awda, or the Return, a descendant of the Baath Party, which ruled the country as a dictatorship for 35 years, mostly under Mr. Hussein. Tens of thousands of Iraqis died or were persecuted, including Mr. Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, by the Baath Party. It was outlawed after the American invasion in 2003.

While most members of the Baath Party were Sunni Muslims, as Mr. Hussein was, those arrested were a mix of Sunnis and Shiites, several officials said. It was unclear precisely how many Interior Ministry officials were detained.

A high-ranking Interior Ministry official said that those affiliated with Al Awda had paid bribes to other officers to recruit them and that huge amounts of money had been found in raids.

He said there could be more arrests. Some of those under arrest belonged to the now-illegal party under Mr. Hussein’s government. Mr. Maliki’s office declined to comment. But one of his advisers, insisting that he not be named because he was not authorized to speak, said the detainees were involved in “a conspiracy.”

The Ministry of the Interior is dedicated to Iraq’s internal security, and includes the police forces. The ministry has a history of being heavily infiltrated with Shiite militias, though it has improved considerably over the past two years.

A police officer, who knows several of the detainees but spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they were innocent, longstanding civil servants and had little in common with one another. Those who once belonged to the Baath Party were lower-level members, he said, insisting that the arrests were politically motivated.

Interior Minister Jawad Kadem al-Bolani, who has not been implicated and is out of the country, has his own political ambitions and has been expanding his secular Iraqi Constitutional Party. Iraq is a nation where leadership has often changed by coup, and as next month’s provincial elections approach, worry about violence is increasing. So are accusations about politically charged detentions.

The counterterrorism unit involved in these arrests is alleged to have conducted a raid this summer on the Diyala provincial governor’s office, during which an employee was killed and a provincial council member, one of the few Sunnis Arabs on the council, was arrested.

At a later protest against the arrest, several other Sunni politicians were detained. A number of politicians who follow the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and who have set themselves up as political rivals to the prime minister, have also been arrested over the past months and charged with terrorist activities.

Anxieties about the government’s treatment of political enemies were also raised this week as the American military, as part of the recently approved security agreement, turned over to Iraqi custody on Monday 39 senior officials from the Hussein government. Some have been convicted already and others are scheduled to stand trial, the United States military said in a statement.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni lawmaker, charged that the safety of the prisoners was in jeopardy. “I think these people are not going to be treated well and that is the American responsibility,” he said.

Badeei Araf, a lawyer who said he represented 11 of those being turned over, said at least two appeared on the “most wanted” deck of cards that the United States publicized early in the invasion in 2003. But, he said, neither Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali and awaiting execution, nor Tariq Aziz, the public face of the Hussein government, were among those transferred.

On Wednesday morning, a bomb planted in a minibus exploded near a parking lot belonging to an Iraqi traffic police station in the Nadha neighborhood of Baghdad, killing up to 18 people and injuring scores, police officials said. Some Iraqi officials put the death toll at eight.

A small blast in a market of barbershops and butchers drew people out of their homes before the minibus exploded. The attack appeared to be directed at the police station; at least three of those killed were police officers.

Also on Wednesday morning, Gordon Brown, the prime minister of Britain, made a surprise appearance at a news conference in Baghdad with Mr. Maliki, where he confirmed that British forces would end their operations in Iraq by the end of May and would withdraw from the country by the end of June.
-----------------------------------------------

Reporting was contributed by Riyadh Mohammed, Eric Owles, Suadad al-Salhy and Atheer Kakan from Baghdad, and Alissa J. Rubin from Paris.
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parados
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Dec, 2008 08:50 am
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
Does this mean we have achieved victory?

<Bush's "evil" plan is working>
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BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Fri 19 Dec, 2008 10:23 am
December 19, 2008
An Inquiry in Baghdad Is Clouded by Politics
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and TAREQ MAHER
New York times

BAGHDAD " Iraqi officials on Thursday confirmed a wave of arrests in what appeared to be a major internal crackdown inside the nation’s security apparatus. But in an atmosphere of secrecy and political rivalry, the officials could agree on few other facts, from the number detained to the seriousness of the allegations.

At a news conference on Thursday, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, repeated some of the more serious allegations that had leaked out the night before. He told reporters that 23 officials from the Interior Ministry had been arrested in recent days, many for being affiliated with Al Awda, a descendant of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, which is now banned.

In a possible indication of the breadth of the investigation, the Interior Ministry said that the investigation involved not only the ministry itself, as had been reported, but also the Defense and National Security Ministries. Others said that the investigation was not over and that more arrests could be expected.

But General Khalaf sought to discredit the most serious of the allegations made earlier by Iraqi officials, saying there was no evidence that the suspects were in the early stages of planning a coup against Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

The conflicting accounts of the operation prompted an urgent question from Mr. Maliki’s critics: Were the arrests politically motivated, carried out as a way for Mr. Maliki to weaken his rivals before the nationwide provincial elections planned for next month?

Suspicions were fueled by reports that a counterterrorism force overseen directly by Mr. Maliki was part of the operation, though several officials denied it.

Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish lawmaker, said questions had been raised by the shifting accusations he and other Iraqi political leaders had heard in the past several days: that the detainees were planning a coup; that they belonged to Al Awda; and that they planned to burn down the ministry.

Also, the officials arrested seem to have come disproportionately from the Interior Ministry, an agency dominated by members of Mr. Maliki’s rival parties.

“These conflicting stories and the lack of transparency has led some people to think that this is all politically motivated and has to do with the election,” Mr. Othman said.

The arrests came about as part of the work of a committee set up two weeks ago by Mr. Maliki, said Gen. Ahmed Abu Raqeef, the director of internal affairs for the Interior Ministry.

Initial accounts provided by Iraqi security officials, and published by The New York Times on Thursday, said that General Raqeef was among those arrested. But on Thursday he said that account was wrong. In fact, he said, he was part of the committee overseeing the investigation of Iraqi security officials on a number of charges.

The committee is made up of a judge and five senior security officials, General Raqeef said, including representatives from the three security ministries " the Interior, Defense and National Security Ministries.

The group has been investigating officials suspected of making fake security badges, enabling terrorist activities or having inappropriate ties with foreign countries or political parties, including Al Awda.

General Raqeef said that so far there was no solid proof implicating the security officials, at least the ones from the Interior Ministry. But he said that he had ordered the detention of 16 officials from the ministry as part of the investigation, which is continuing. He said he did not know how many were held from the other security ministries.

A senior adviser to Jawad al-Bolani, the interior minister, who did not want to give his name because he was not authorized to speak publicly, provided a list of names and ranks of 24 Interior Ministry officials he said were arrested, which includes lieutenants, captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and generals.

Abas al-Bayati, a member of the security and defense committee in the Parliament, said that more than 30 Interior Ministry officials had been detained.

It is just as uncertain how many were detained at other ministries. Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta, a military spokesman, said one official from the Defense Ministry had been arrested. Ayad al-Taei, the public relations director at the Interior Ministry, said seven Defense Ministry officials had been detained.

The minister of defense himself, Abdul Qadir al-Ubaidi, said he had not received information about any arrests.

A senior security official in Baghdad, who is not authorized to speak publicly about the operation, said there had been at least 39 arrests among all the ministries and that 4 had occurred on Thursday.

Many Iraqi officials reacted to the news of detentions and secret investigations with anger.

“This is not the first time and it will be not the last one that the Iraqi government carried out such an operation without the knowledge of the Council of Representatives, which is a legislative and monitoring entity on the government’s activities,” said Waleed Sherka, a Turkmen member of Parliament who is also on the security and defense committee. “We certainly didn’t know about it.”

The adviser to Mr. Bolani said that the prime minister had been privately pushing for the arrest of a number of Interior officials for two months, but that Mr. Bolani had pushed back, insisting that the officials were innocent.

Mr. Bolani’s hand was forced, however, when the other ministries agreed to form the committee and so he gave his assent, the adviser said, attributing the episode to the political rivalry between Mr. Bolani, who is building his own Iraqi Constitutional Party, and Mr. Maliki.

However, both General Raqeef and Mr. Taei, the public relations director for the Interior Ministry, said the interior minister fully supported the formation of the committee.

Mr. Bolani has been traveling but is expected to return to Iraq on Friday.
----------------------------------

Suadad al-Salhy, Riyadh Mohammed and Atheer Kakan contributed reporting.
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